A/N: I know I said the last chapter was the last chapter, but I have a surprise for my readers. Many of the reviews requested that I write in the reactions of Snow and Charming to Emma being involved with Gold. So, I have written up a nice little epilogue doing just that. Besides, I actually did want to write for Jefferson's reaction.
Jefferson didn't know what possessed him to peer into his telescope that night.
It was late, the festival long over. Grace was comfortably asleep in her bed and the rest of the enormous hotel of a house was quiet. Most nights, his mind refused to settle down enough to warrant sleep, in which case he helped himself to a soothing cup of tea, no drugs included. He hated when he mixed up the tea and took the one with the sedatives. He always woke up bleary-minded with carpet burn on his jaw and pins and needles tingling in his legs.
But when it was the right tea, it was absolutely…delicious.
Tonight, he barely swallowed his first sip when instinct warned him to check the telescope. It was a wave of abrupt intuition, similar to the essence of magic upon having the curse broken. It was powerful, alluring, seductive. What was going on in this sleepy little town? Who was awake besides him?
Soon, he had abandoned his teacup and bounded up the stairs, heading for his favorite telescope in the hat room. Currently, it was pointed at Granny's Diner in hopes that he would learn her secret recipes. Her chocolate chip cookies were far better than any store-bought brand out there. The Keebler elves should take notes.
There it was again: a spark of intuition nudging his brain. That was magic, if he ever felt it. Something was happening in Storybrooke. But what?
Bending over his telescope, he put his eye to the eyepiece and caught a glimpse of the dark diner. Nothing interesting there. He was starting to suspect Granny did all her nightly cooking with night vision goggles to prevent anyone from peeking with a telescope or binoculars. He wouldn't put it past her, what with her arsenal of weapons and hand-made devices.
He aimed the telescope in a different direction, searching blindly for the source of magic. Snow and Prince Charming were still awake, though they were hardly doing anything magical. They were cuddling on their couch, watching Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs—and Charming was bawling. It earned a giggle from Jefferson before he moved on. Regina was baking a late-night apple pie in her kitchen. Probably poisoned. He wondered who had dug under her skin lately.
Oh, my. He had a winner.
This was…startling. Unbelievable. Extraordinary. Amusing. It rendered him speechless, his mouth dropping to the carpeted floor. It was a good thing there were no flies in his house. If it was one thing he had perfected while dragging out his days in this mansion, it was cleaning.
Emma was sharing Rumpelstiltskin's bed, as she had done all week due to the limitations of the handcuffs. Except this was different. This time, there were no handcuffs encircling their wrists; the cuffs were strewn carelessly over the bedside table. There were candles everywhere, a glowing sea of flickering flames around the bed. Emma was lying in his arms and she was wide awake. Smiling. Laughing.
His brain fizzled. He couldn't tear his eyes away from the telescope.
This wasn't even a subconscious desire on her part. This was all real. Neither of them were wearing shirts, as far as he could see. He didn't want to know what it looked like under the covers. Just to emphasis that fact, most of that notoriously fashionable suit was carelessly piled in the corner of the room, tie and all. Rumpel played with Emma's hair, swirling it around his fingers while Emma nuzzled her face into his chest.
They did it.
Son of a witch. They actually did it.
Jefferson's jaw ached from hanging open so long. He placed his hand under his chin and directed it back into place. Ah, that was better. In the name of drunken dormice, they did the unthinkable! Who would've thought it? And he thought Snow and Charming's romantic chemistry made waves in this town.
"I knew those two wouldn't be able to hold out past Valentine's Day," he murmured to himself. He continued watching them for a minute, not feeling the least bit embarrassed as Rumpel and Emma stared starry-eyed at each other. Maybe he should send them a glorious gift basket saying Congratulations! Or would that be too obvious and creepy?
Now they were huddling closer under the covers. Was it cold in there? Maybe the imp did it on purpose to force Emma to conserve body heat with him. Maybe that was the real reason for this intimate moment—
Now they were kissing. Kissing…on the lips. With tongue.
Now they were touching. The squirming bumps under the covers revealed exactly where Rumpel's hand was sliding. Emma jumped a couple of times as her partner tenderly squeezed certain parts of her body, but she didn't look too concerned. That blush in her cheeks was fiery and attractive.
Now Rumpel's muscles were thriving rapidly under his skin and he was rolling on top of her, the blanket frantically being kicked away—
Jefferson bellowed and whipped his head away from the telescope. The telescope crashed to the ground, but he didn't have the mind to care at the moment. He was too busy rubbing his stinging eyes, trying hopelessly to scrub the image that burned itself into his eyelids. The torture of it! It was maddening!
"Holy mother of Alice! My eyes! Doesn't he know to close the blinds? Bad mental image! Bad mental image!"
Jefferson tumbled into the table and knocked over a half-finished hat. He crouched over the table, heaving for a fresh breath of air. He was pretty sure his mind just reduced itself to Jell-O. That was more of Rumpelstiltskin than he ever wanted to see! How was he supposed to keep a straight face when he crossed paths with the imp now?
This was what he got for spying on people through his telescope. It tended to have its downsides.
Grace's tiny voice, delicate as fine china, came from the doorway of the hat room. She must have woken to the sound of his frantic yelling. He regretted it immediately. Without taking his palms from his throbbing eyes—with his luck, he was permanently blind and would have to feel his way around this place—he swung toward the sound of Grace's voice.
She should be right about…oof, no…that was a wall. Then her hand caught his shirt, tugging it insistently.
"It's okay, Grace. Go back to bed, please. Papa's just having one of those realistic nightmares," he explained, his voice noticeably shaking. This nightmare was one that wouldn't end. Someone pinch me and wake me up, he thought morosely. Oh, gods, the image was coming back! It was worse inside his head!
Removing his hands from his eyes, he fought off the uneasiness from the blinding overhead lights of the hat room. He tucked Grace back into her bed, assuring her that he was fine. Then he dashed downstairs and fled into the living room, where his tea had grown unfavorably cold. What he needed was a telephone.
He thought about calling Rumpelstiltskin and yelling at him through the phone to shut his blinds, but didn't want to face the humiliation that would entail. Knowing the dealmaker as well as he did, he knew there would be gloating on the other end of the line. Did you like what you saw, dearie? Giggle, giggle, giggle.
When Jefferson found the phone, he punched in a number that he never thought he'd have to use in this world.
"Hello, is this Archie? My apologies about waking you. Yes, I know it's the middle of the night. I need to make an appointment…"
It was the day after Valentine's Day.
Red roses were placed in vases and decorated windows as proud proof of bestowed love from husbands, lovers, and sweethearts alike. Granny always had the biggest bouquet of roses. The town square was stripped of everything red, pink, and white. Gone were the streamers, the booths dismantled, the cotton candy cones picked up from the grass. Bags of Sweethearts went on sale at Mr. Clark's, the majority of which was put aside for Gold.
Other than the remnants of last night's euphoria and affections, there was little sign of any romantic festival having been there.
Emma hardly noticed. She was dead to the world until midday, curled in the town's most comfortable blanket and her head sinking peacefully into the softest pillow she ever rested on. Last night's activities consumed every ounce of her energy.
She woke with a broad smile on her face—she couldn't remember the last time that happened. Stretching catlike across the mattress, with arms shooting for the ceiling and toes curling inward, she moaned as the passionate events of last night resurfaced to the front of her sleepy mind.
How in the world could she ever forget? She bet the scale would claim an extra five pounds or so from those Sweethearts. Not to mention the tender ache in her bones and muscles. It was well worth it.
Her hand extended toward the right, blindly searching for a familiar warm body. But the only thing her palm patted was the cool, indented surface of the mattress. She opened her eyes wide just to confirm that he wasn't there and groaned in disappointment. You know, sometimes I'd like to snuggle with a man the morning after…
But then the appetizing waft of bacon and eggs floated up the stairs and betrayed his whereabouts.
Springing up from the bed, she grabbed a shirt off the floor and quickly slipped into it. It was actually Gold's midnight-shaded dress shirt from the previous night, but she didn't think he'd mind. It even still held a hint of his cologne, a fact that warmed Emma's belly pleasurably.
"Lovely taste in fashion, if I do say so myself," the accentuated voice arose from the doorway. Her heart instantly went into overdrive and she spun around. She hadn't even heard him ascend the stairs. Why did he always have to do that? The guy could sneak up on a ninja.
"It was the first thing I grabbed from the floor," she insisted, crossing her arms under her breasts. His gaze followed the movement, sweeping unabashedly over her body and devouring her as his personal morning brain food. She was all the nourishment he desired for the time being.
"M-hm," he murmured, unconvinced. She spotted the tray in his hands and made a small O of realization with her lips. He had prepared breakfast in bed. No cardboard-flavored magic this morning. "If I'd have known you were capable of wearing my shirts sexier than I do, I would have dressed you in those during our imprisonment."
Emma didn't doubt it. Nor did she remove his shirt.
Instead, she compliantly returned to the comfort of his bed so that he could present her breakfast as he had intended. All her favorites were there, waiting to travel down to her growling stomach, the tendrils of steam rising from the pancakes and tickling the tip of her nose.
"How romantic of you," she remarked and meant it. She took a bite out of the heart shaped blueberry pancakes and immediately reclined her head against the pillows in bliss. She could definitely live with this. There'd be no returning to fast food and microwave dinners after this.
Tentatively, he perched on the edge of the mattress. She scooted her legs over to offer him more room.
"Yes, well…Let's just say I was hoping that the magic you and I shared last night was not a one-time deal," he said, grazing a hand over her inner thigh. The way he peered at her from under his eyelashes emphasized the fact that he was sincerely hoping, holding his breath for her response.
Fortunately for him, there was already a Sleeping Beauty in existence in the fairy tale world and she had no plans of waking up from the dream that had been cast over her this week.
Emma roughly swallowed the thick piece of egg in her mouth and it burned all the way down. She took a minute to comprehend what he was so bravely proposing. He was talking about commitment. He was talking about a true relationship.
"I already told you that I'm practically bound to you," she reminded him. It didn't matter if her words had been uttered within the throes of passion and the enchanting mist of lovemaking. They were as true this morning as they were hours ago. "You want to try? As a real couple?"
"Most call it dating."
Gold folded his hands in his lap and averted his gaze to the floorboards. She noticed the candles had vanished, though a small hint of vanilla cupcake sweetened the air. The grooves and anxious lines creasing his forehead suggested he was deeply considering it, weighing the pros and cons of the required vulnerability. Then the corners of his lips twitched upwards and Emma knew which way he was leaning.
"To tell you the truth, I haven't really tried with anyone in a very, very long time. There are not many people in this world of whom I am willing to open my heart. Most of my affairs have ended in tragedy," he explained carefully while trying to keep his emotions in check. The strings of Emma's heart tugged at the ingrained sound of sadness in his voice. "But now…I think I'd like to try again. If you'll let me."
Gently, he clasped her hand and brought it to his lips, kissing the knuckle for good measure. Her instincts declared that the hand-kissing detail was his way of encouraging her to seal the deal. It was so hard to think with his lips roaming her skin. Even so, she wasn't about to gobble the breakfast, thank him for the free food—if it was actually 'free'—and march out with a cloud of dust trailing behind.
"Yes," she accepted, nodding once.
It had been ten years since she last invested in a relationship with a man. Ten long years; eleven months of it were spent in jail while the rest was spent in loneliness with an empty bed, her heart hardened by an impenetrable iron shell. This past week with Gold had shattered that shell and made her understand how much she longed for that connection.
They could do this. They could try to be together, give it a shot. It would be an adventure for both of them.
"Thank gods! I was sure the heart-shaped pancakes were overdoing it. Though, they're not as perfect as Granny's. That woman never gives up her kitchen secrets," Gold exclaimed in relief. Suddenly, he snatched up the folded newspaper sitting behind her plate of food and scanned it. "By the way, you and I have made the headlines."
He flipped the newspaper around so that she could get a good view of it. On the front page was an enormous black and white photo of their kiss at the Valentine's Day festival. The headline made Emma's eyebrows arch upwards in surprise. Golden Swan Lives!
"They dubbed us with a shipping name? Golden Swan?" She figured it was a little better than having Sidney trying to mash their names together in the way celebrities always did in the magazines. Gold shrugged, though a fond expression dominated his features.
"Fans. What can you do?"
If there was one holiday Regina hated, it was Valentine's Day.
The roses always smelled sickly sweet, the floral fragrance gagging her with every step of the day. The chocolate candies sold at Mr. Clark's convenience store were of the cheap variety, the rich kind that gave her a stomachache too soon. Besides, she lost the taste for Apollo bars after she witnessed Mary Margaret taking a wide interest in the large ones on the shelf. There were too many idiots swapping saliva in the street, there were never any valentines in her mailbox, no Prince Charming sweeping her off her feet.
Of course, that was because her Prince Charming was dead as a doornail.
Such a useless, cringe-worthy holiday. The day after was no different. While the rest of the women in Storybrooke were sharing tales of romance and comparing bouquets, she carried on with her daily morning routine.
Rise, take a moment to glare upon the town below, change into something fashionably fabulous for the day…If only she still had her loyal Mirror hanging on her wall to compliment her look. The Mirror never lied. It always boosted her confidence, which hadn't cloaked her aura since the day the curse broke.
Slip on a pair of heels, apply her makeup with her lipstick color matching her mood. The deeper the shade of red, the worse her mood was for that particular day. She chose a burgundy shade today—not the darkest shade in her arsenal of lipsticks, but dark enough to unsettle all passersby.
Fluff her hair—cutting it short was the best move she ever made in this world—followed swiftly by a spritz of seductive perfume. Just a puff or two on her wrists and behind her ears, though it wasn't like any man would get close enough to appreciate it. Not even Jefferson stared at her chest anymore. That was back before she was even trying to show off!
She fetched the newspaper from downstairs with a solemn frown glued on her lips. There was never usually anything of remote interest printed in The Daily Mirror since nothing big happened lately in this town, but she still liked to monitor what was being said. Old habits and all that jazz. Time to check the headlines while pouring herself a freshly-brewed cup of coffee—
What in the world…?
Before she knew it, her coffee cup overflowed with a scalding black stream, staining the edge of the newspaper. She tossed the coffeepot down, cracking the bottom, and scowled as the liquid pooled over her fine mahogany table. And yet no curse or shout of disgust tunneled up from her throat. It was as though her voice had been crudely sucked out, her mouth hanging open unpleasantly.
This was…this was atrocious! What was Sidney trying to do, encourage the citizens of this town to upchuck their cornflakes? The picture of Emma Swan and Rumpelstiltskin sharing a passionate kiss was enough to make her rip every strand of hair out of her head. It made her stomach roil worse than the stupid chocolate.
He, of all people, didn't deserve his happy ending. Now he had the indecency to flaunt it all over the headlines! She was surprised he hadn't called her up just to gloat and giggle. The newspaper crumpled under the strain of her grip and she flung it away, into the middle of the coffee puddle.
What was it about those handcuffs that initiated such intimacy between those two? It was revolting.
Out of nowhere, a demanding knock arose from her front door as she sullenly mopped up the spilled coffee. She could feel a vein throbbing in her forehead. Who had the gall to bother her so early in the morning? Another raging mob? The pathetic fairies spreading goodwill? Or was it Rumpelstiltskin coming to mock her about his trysts with Emma Swan?
If it was the latter, that imp would have a poisoned apple shoved down his throat before the word dearie rolled off his clever tongue.
Grumbling, Regina slapped the cloth down on the table and strode to the door. She swung it open, wearing her most fearsome black expression. Don't screw with me. I'll eat you for breakfast, it read quite clearly.
"What the hell do you—"
She halted midsentence. There was no one on her porch. No sign of a finely tailored suit or elegant cane. No hint of fairy wings, wands, or pesky puffs of fairy dust that always seemed to fly up her nose. No sight of burning torches, sharpened pitchforks, or rude posters with a red X through her face.
Nothing but the empty street and…
Well. What was this all about?
A shiny wrapped present rested on her porch. Gold paper glinted in the sunlight with a silky red ribbon holding it tightly together. From this perspective, it looked innocent enough. But immediately Regina's guard shot upwards and she scanned the empty street. The present obviously didn't knock on her door. It had no hands.
Was it some crude trick? A last feeble attempt to rid her presence from this town? She'd plotted on more than one occasion of setting a tempting box of exploding chocolates on Rumpelstiltskin's doorstep. If she were capable of contemplating such an act, then why not him?
Or did someone really leave her a present? Henry, perhaps? It was too big a chance for her not to take and so she reached down to retrieve the present. At least it was not tied to a string. She wouldn't put it past the loathsome imp to tie fishing line to the present and yank it away every time she dove for it.
It was a small, thin box, no bigger than the envelope taped underneath it. She brought it close to her ear and listened to the silence sifting around her. No suspicious ticking inside. Then she shook it back and forth in hopes of earning a hint of the contents. Something rattled inside, something light and metallic. Jewelry? Did she truly have a secret admirer? Sidney?
She contained her curiosity long enough to slit the envelope open with a dagger-sharp nail. The envelope itself was blank of any foretelling address or name and the solitary note within the envelope held little more than that. Her ebony eyes roved over the single piece of paper, confused lines creasing the edges of her mouth.
One word; that was it. She flipped the page up and down, over and over, but there was nothing else except for that one word. Typed and printed from a computer, with no possible indications of the mysterious stranger's identity. It unsettled her all the more. She rattled the box around once more, becoming more confident that it was jewelry inside.
What kind of woman would she be if she did not accept such a well-deserved, gratifying gift?
Regina carelessly tossed the note over her shoulder and tore relentlessly into the package. Underneath the gold paper was a white velvet box, the kind that often held expensive jewelry. How endearing. A wicked grin broadened over her face. It was about time the people of this town showed her some respect. She flipped the lid of the box and—
She recoiled from the contents as she would a threat, launching the box as far as she could. Her face contorted with utmost disgust and her body convulsed as though she were about to lose everything in her stomach. She began dry-heaving over her porch. This was a sick, cruel joke at best.
In the box had been only one item—handcuffs. Her mother's enchanted handcuffs. Which meant that Emma and Rumpelstiltskin most likely…they had…did…oh, her brain was in searing agony. There was no way that proud little princess managed to cut off Rumpelstiltskin's hand or her own. There was no way the savior would willingly kill another human being, much like her holier-than-thou mother.
Her stomach coiled at the thought of those two skipping to option three. That they…the two of them…
"That sick little imp! He will rue this day!"
Still shuddering, Regina released an inhuman growl of fury and retreated into the sanctuary of her manor, slamming the door in her wake. It was a good thing she never noticed the bushes under her porch quivering.
"Is she gone?"
"Wait for it," came a low hiss. Ten seconds passed. "She's gone."
"How do you know? You trained her in the art of ninja. For all you know, she's huffing and puffing on her porch, waiting to skewer us with her glare."
"Let's test that theory." With a great yelp, Jefferson tumbled out of the bush, having been brutally kicked out by Rumpelstiltskin. Ten seconds passed before Rumpel stepped casually from behind the bush. "You haven't been transformed into Jefferson-on-a-Stick yet."
"That was your master plan? Sacrifice me to Regina?" Jefferson stumbled to his feet and brushed the dirt from his clothes. While he picked twigs out of his hair, Rumpelstiltskin looked like he could strut down a runway in Paris. What was his secret? It couldn't just be the magic.
"And did you have to take up so much room? For a small guy, you're obnoxious in close quarters," Jefferson openly complained. Rumpelstiltskin smirked. It seemed Jefferson's displeasure only served his entertainment.
"What did I tell you? You see all the good things you catch when you hide in the bushes?" Jefferson watched as the imp glided across the trimmed lawn and pocketed the fallen handcuffs. Jefferson grimaced. He couldn't believe he and Emma still had use for them.
"My telescope's still better than your lousy hide-in-the-bushes technique," Jefferson insisted, fixing his cravat over his scar. He didn't care what Rumpelstiltskin said. Nothing beat his favorite telescope. He stretched his muscles to rid his body of the ache of having Rumpelstiltskin land on him in the bushes.
"And yet you were the one screaming in agony last night. That's exactly what you deserve for spying on me, dearie. I myself was screaming for other reasons." Jefferson gawked and shielded his ears with his hands. I did not just hear that, I did not just hear that! Did he really say that? With a creepy smile?
"Too much information!"
Jefferson whipped his head back and forth in a futile attempt to unclog the traumatized, numbing sensation from his brain. It felt like he just got hit in the head with a croquet mallet. Though, he might take the croquet mallet instead. Did the guy have any sort of filter? Or did he always spout what was on his mind? Not very subtle.
"Whoops," Rumpelstiltskin mocked. It wasn't very convincing in the remorseful department. Jefferson had to wonder why he allowed himself to be pulled into Rumpelstiltskin's antics. Probably because he was the closest thing the dealmaker had to a friend.
"You owe me for that trauma. Archie will have enough trouble unraveling the workings of my mind, let alone that terrifying incident," he countered. He debated the best way to have Rumpel pay him back. "You can make it up to me by buying me dessert at Granny's."
He expected the imp to jump at the temptation of delicious vanilla sundaes oozing with chocolate fudge and topped with cherries. Even if Rumpelstiltskin was buying for Jefferson, he wouldn't be able to resist ordering the tallest sundae for himself. Instead, he turned and began to walk down Regina's path toward the street without any interest in Jefferson.
"Afraid not. I happen to have a hot date with Emma tonight. It wouldn't bode well for our newfound relationship if I failed to make the proper arrangements." Jefferson figured Rumpelstiltskin had a checklist for such occasions. Pick out his best suit, freshen up with breath spray, blow-dry his hair for twice the time it usually takes him. "Oh, and I'll need to borrow your rainbow horse again."
"Haven't you burdened Skittles enough for one week?" Jefferson rolled his eyes. He could swear Rumpelstiltskin was swinging his hips the entire way.
"Golden Swan Lives," Grumpy recited from the headlines of the Daily Mirror. Archie and Red peered over his shoulder and drank in the sight of the black and white photo of Emma and Gold kissing. While Red grinned wolfishly, Archie gaped in disbelief. "Who came up with the name Golden Swan? Reminds me of the duck from Jack and the Beanstalk. And we all know Rumpelstiltskin isn't exactly a giant." Grumpy guffawed.
"It was a goose, not a duck," Red corrected hotly. The guy derived from the Enchanted Forest and he didn't even know his fairy tales. "I didn't come up with Golden Swan. There's no Sweetheart for that." Grumpy looked to Archie accusingly, but it was clear from the open-mouthed expression that the cricket was clueless.
"I knew they were handcuffed together, but I never knew they shared such passion for each other. Why do I always miss the good stuff in this town?" Archie pouted down at his pancakes. "I must say, Mr. Glass hasn't shown much creativity before. So, then who…?"
"I did," Granny announced, swinging a spatula in Grumpy's direction. The newspaper was his only protection from Granny's wrath. "I even gave Glass an exclusive about how the Sheriff shared her pickles with him last night. Why? You have a problem with the name Golden Swan?"
The spatula poked the newspaper, threatening to tear right through it. Grumpy craned his head away to avoid being poked.
"No, Granny. I love it. Long live Golden Swan," he scurried to escape Granny's radar. She narrowed her eyes dangerously, but lowered the spatula. For now. Grumpy's reprieve was short-lived as Red frantically slapped his shoulder. He hissed. It wasn't fun being slapped by a werewolf so close to that time of the month.
"You owe me twenty bucks," she declared, a victorious crimson grin glowing on her face. Leroy scowled, but she ignored it. "My love radar never fails! Once you share pickles with someone, there's no going back. I knew I felt something last night; some intense lovin' being made. Happened all the time when Snow and Charming kissed. And the wedding night!" Red shivered, though there wasn't a chill in the air.
Archie made a soft aww as he studied the photo again. His wise eyes were bright behind his glasses. Grumpy was half-bent, sticking his finger down his throat in a gagging gesture. Red smacked him on the back of the head. That practically cost him a skull fracture.
"I think it's romantic. It's a big step from both of them on a personal level. Two people socially disconnected, being able to tear down their walls and open up to each other. Perhaps this is the start of a beautiful, trusting relationship," Archie gushed.
From the stars in his eyes, the cricket was already planning on attending their future wedding. Grumpy shook his head miserably and downed half his ale. He needed it after that creepy mental image.
"Yeah, sure, doc. And I'll see the error of my ways in making bets with people, grow a few feet taller, and spout magical wings so I can fly my way out of this town. The birds haven't been struck by lightning yet," he sarcastically grumbled. Granny grinned slyly, as if she would be entertained by a flying Grumpy.
"The birds aren't cursed, Grumpy," Red argued. He swiveled his chair around to challenge her head-on. She held a hand above his head to mock his height. It was sad when even Rumpelstiltskin was taller than you.
"Got any proof, sister? I swear I saw a dove the other day that looked familiar. Where did all the woodland creatures go, then? You think they're infesting our beds? Staking claim to our food supply and our cottages?"
He folded up the newspaper and flipped it so he wouldn't have to see the front page. The animals back home weren't the only ones doing some infesting. Nine months and there would probably be countless mini-Golds wreaking havoc in Storybrooke. One Gold was enough for a lifetime.
"What does she even see in that guy?" Grumpy shuddered at the invasive mental image of Gold having intimate relations with anyone. Red shrugged.
"He does have incredible taste in fashion. Best dressed in Storybrooke, if you ask me. What girl doesn't like a guy in a suit from time to time? With Gold, it's all the time," she sighed, rubbing her fingertips over the smooth surface of the bar as she would with one of his silk ties.
"Must be the accent," Granny joined in with her two cents. She pretended to be interested in polishing the silverware, but that rag was rubbing the forks and spoons a little too feverishly. "Makes perfect sense. An accent like melted butter…it's a man's ticket to snagging a woman's attention."
Red cocked an eyebrow at Granny in suspicion, but the old woman put all efforts into the silverware. They were going to have a long talk at home.
"He smells nice," Archie added. Their heads simultaneously shifted toward the therapist, who was inhaling deeply through the nose. Archie's eyelids parted and he stiffened under the weight of the odd gazes. "What? You haven't noticed?"
Grumpy decided to leave Archie to his own little world that seemingly revolved around Gold's cologne. Just what he needed: another mental image, consisting of Archie following Gold all day and sniffing his suit. Was he the only clear-headed person in this town now? How ironic.
"All I want to know is how he gets his hair to be so perfect in the morning. Never a strand out of place, gray or otherwise," Grumpy admitted. He patted his own bald head, wishing for once he had a head of hair like Gold's. If he was in the betting mood, he'd bet that guy used a state-of-the-art blow-dryer.
"Mark my words: that limp is a fake. It's all for sympathy, I tell you. That man is the most graceful cripple I've ever laid eyes on. It wouldn't surprise me if he knew how to move on the dance floor," Granny chimed in. She moved on to the knives. Red hoped she wouldn't spear herself in the midst of her fantasies.
"And he is rich. Not that Emma is a gold-digger…so to speak…but think of all the things he could buy! Think of all the birthday, anniversary, and 'I-know-I-screwed-up' presents! Expensive jewelry, roses, chocolates, a Jacuzzi built for two…" Red's expression grew dreamy, her body rocking on her heels.
"And he's a skillful cook," Archie exclaimed. It earned him another round of curious glances. He coughed uneasily. "Or so I've heard. Rumors." His face turned red. Grumpy suddenly froze as a strange thought occurred to him while on the verge of complimenting Gold.
"In other words…we all have our reasons for potentially dating Gold?"
The four of them exchanged alarmed looks. Thankfully, there weren't that many people in the diner to overhear their conversation or else this would be tomorrow's headlines. Gold: Most Wanted Man In Storybrooke!
Grumpy seriously began to question why he insisted on frequenting Granny's Diner. It only led to trouble. He pointed a beefy finger at each of his companions.
"Listen up. What happens in this diner stays in this diner," he growled under his breath. With their luck, this would get out, anyway. Regina Mills had eyes and ears everywhere. As a matter of fact, so did Gold. Four heads nodded in unison.
"Seven times?" Emma…I…I don't even think your father and I even made it that far on our wedding night," Snow exclaimed in awe. She raked her hand through her jet black hair, absorbing the news of her daughter's sex life. A second later she held the phone away from her ear as her daughter unleashed a howl of disgust. "I'm sorry! Too much information!"
Footsteps echoed on the floorboards and she quickly said her goodbyes to Emma. They'd be meeting for lunch tomorrow and the two of them could discuss this whole matter in true mother/daughter form. It would be difficult explaining this to Charming. She knew he meant everything he said at the festival, but it was one thing giving the blessing and another entirely to deal with the results of that blessing.
"Snow, when we agreed on making up for lost time, I don't think it implied giving Emma traumatic childhood memories for all the 28 years we missed out. She's already sworn off tacos," her prince teased as he emerged from their bedroom. In his hand was a sword—not a real one, but a carved one he was crafting for Henry. She'd be picking splinters out of his fingers tonight.
Now, how to break the news to him?
"I was thinking. We should invite Rumpelstiltskin over for dinner more often. Since you approve of how happy he seems to make Emma," she suggested humbly. Charming took a soda from the fridge—the best creation since leather vests, he claimed—and popped the lid with a low hiss.
"As long as he doesn't hog the crème pie…why not? It's better to have him on our side. You've seen how big his tantrums are. I suppose he's not…so bad. And who knows? Maybe our charity and goodness will start to rub off on him." He took a great gulp of soda while Snow digested his enthusiasm. Somehow, she severely doubted that Rumpel was going to be enlisting his servitude to the nuns' charity events anytime soon, but he wasn't as dark as the man he'd been in the Enchanted Forest. "Guess this means we'll have another tug of war with the bread while he emphasizes the fact that he's handcuffed to our daughter."
If that wasn't an opportune moment for dramatic news, she didn't know what was. Snow bit her lip, considering how to best form the admission.
"Well, darling….I think he'll be flaunting for other reasons," she hinted quietly. Charming heard every word. The soda can slowly lowered from his mouth, the metal crunching under his fingers. He offered her a quizzical look.
"Did he win Best Dressed again? That's hardly a surprise, Snow," he replied rather calmly, though there was still a hint of jealousy in his cerulean eyes.
One of Charming's first goals after the curse being broken was to beat Rumpelstiltskin in pursuit of the Best Dressed Man in Storybrooke award. Of course, that required a few hundred dollars—and maybe Rumpelstiltskin's mysterious disappearance.
"No, not exactly. Not yet, anyhow," she admitted. She might have given her vote to Rumpel once or twice for Best Dressed. "Emma and Rumpelstiltskin…aren't really…handcuffed anymore."
All that was left now was to wait for the news to sink in. In a way, it was inevitable what with how close Emma had been leaning toward Gold this week. Even a blind person would have seen it. But Charming could be thick-headed sometimes.
At this moment, he stared at her incredulously, dropped his gaze to his soda can, gave a passing glance to everything as if something would help him make sense of the jumbled mess in his head.
To her surprise, her husband chuckled. Oh, gods, he thought it was a quip.
"What, did he accidentally cut his hand off while chopping vegetables? Or did Emma do it?" Snow shook her head solemnly. He was obviously in denial.
"No, Charming. Rumpelstiltskin still has full use of his limbs and organs," she assured him. Some more than others, she added inside her head. If Charming was referring to the three options that would have released their daughter from the handcuffs, it meant he would hit the nail on the head eventually.
Charming's face grew slack with dismay.
"You mean…he's…dead? Or are you telling me that it's...oh, gods, Snow…it's Emma?" Water welled up in his crystal blue eyes. Any moment now, he was going to need the Kleenex. She sighed.
"No one is dead." She knocked on wood, just in case. Their family never had the best odds against tragedy.
That was strike two; there was only one possible option left for Charming to latch onto. She witnessed his face transform with confusion, then alarm, then horror. She never knew her husband was capable of mimicking The Scream so well.
"You mean…they…those two…together…horizontally…vertically…did…it? As in…it-it?" Snow didn't need to answer that question in order for Charming to understand the truth. A terrible shudder traversed through his body. "I think this will sum up my reaction in a nutshell."
Charming held up a finger, asking for a kind moment. Then he tossed back his head and took a giant sip of soda. Just as quickly, he spewed it out across the floor. It was a good thing Snow had expected it, or else she would be drenched. Charming's eyes boggled out of his head.
"What?! Our baby is doing the horizontal tango?" Snow laid a paper napkin over the spewed soda, nudging it along with the toe of her flats.
"Truthfully, she already has. Otherwise, Henry wouldn't be here," she pointed out. Charming offered her a look that suggested that stating the facts wasn't helping any. The rest of his body had gone numb: his jaw tightened, his muscles rigid as piano cords, no sound slipping from his mouth. The Tin Man had better color than her husband did right now. "I know it's hard to wrap your mind around, but maybe this isn't as bad as you think. Emma's obviously happy with it."
Charming was statuesque, frozen in shock. She waved a hand in front of his face, but he didn't even blink. Don't tell me he's slipping back into his coma, she silently pleaded. She could read the alarm in the depths of his eyes: failure to compute. She started considering kissing him to wake him up.
"Snow…is this how Emma felt when she walked in on us in bed? Like the carpet had been pulled out from beneath her feet? That she face-planted in the middle of town square?" Charming slowly blinked and returned to life. Snow recognized the same shell-shocked expression that had been on Emma's face when she walked in on them. This probably wasn't a good time to point out the similarity between father and daughter. "I will resolve never to give her traumatic memories again."
Snow whistled out a low breath.
"Does this mean you'll refrain from scavenging for your sword and knocking on Rumpelstiltskin's door?" It wouldn't likely work out for Charming, anyway. A sword never did prove to be much of a threat for the Dark One. She hoped he at least had a Plan B after killing him.
"I'm considering it," Charming replied, though she could see there was no real steam behind that threat. He had already promised Emma that he would support her happiness and Prince Charming was not one to go back on his word. It would just take some getting used to. "Just don't expect me to attend Father-Son Day and participate in three-legged races with him."
And they're going to be a couple? As in dating, kissing, holding hands, sharing popcorn at the movies, and other unmentionable activities that the eleven year old upstairs doesn't need to know about yet?
Yes, Charming. That's what couple means in this world. I think it's sweet. Emma's finally getting a chance to have her happy ending. Don't you think she's deserves it after everything she's done for us?
Of course I do. I gave him my blessing, didn't I? I just didn't expect them to jump into bed this fast! Snow, you realize that if Emma marries him….I'm going to have a son-in-law who is virtually three centuries older than me? And what about the possibility of grandchildren? Imagine Thanksgiving!
Henry strained his ears to catch the low exchanges between his grandparents. He reclined in a big green beanbag in the loft of their apartment, where he was supposed to be doing his homework. The pencil tapped the unmarked math page, a satisfied grin crossing his face. How could he concentrate on fractions when there was exciting news like that?
Emma and Mr. Gold were going to be together. It was obvious that they had feelings for each other, even to an eleven year old like him. Of course, it was still kind of gross to picture Mr. Gold kissing his mom on the lips, but another part of him was happy for her. He'd have to dig out his walkie-talkie and ask for all the details of any upcoming dates. Maybe he could even help Mr. Gold impress Emma.
This might be a chance for Emma to find her happy ending once and for all. It was about time. Why should the savior be denied her happy ending when she fought so hard to bring back all the rest? How many people in this town could say they slayed a dragon? Just her and Prince Charming, if his book was correct. Like father, like daughter.
Speaking of happy endings…
Henry set aside his homework for the time being. He opened the cover of his notebook and retrieved a ripped-out piece of notebook paper. It was a list of all the people in Storybrooke and the progress of their happy endings. That Criss Angel magic kit would definitely come in handy, thanks to a simple favor. His pencil scrolled down the list until he found the right line.
"Emma and Rumpelstiltskin…check," he mumbled as he drew a graphite line through their names. Then he tapped the eraser against his chin and examined the list again. Granny and Marco…Red and Archie…Pongo and Perdita…"Now, who's next?"
Never underestimate the power of Operation: Cobra. What did everyone think of the latest episode of Once? Yay? Nay?
I want to thank all those that have reviewed and read this story. I think this one has been my favorite to write for Golden Swan, next to my Sunshine story. So, here's a big shout-out to DaesGatling, Huntress4455, DragonRose4, The Auburn Girl, discotimelord, dominiquecatharina, ClaudiaRain, isara-love, FlorencezMachine, BellatrixLives, Lady-Shiroi, BundyShoes, ParanormalMoonlight, NewlandArcher, sbcarri, Nightshade's sydneylover150, Moonlight-Wanderer88, OuroborosMM, liliesandroses, Revenessa, la-stella-immortale, AngelofDarkness1605, and SwanQueen4055.